“• Outrage, anger, despair, shame, impotence: the feelings aroused by Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (It took a UN envoy to hear how austerity is destroying lives, 14 November). The truths consequent on the savage, unnecessary, uncaring cuts to public services are not hidden away but confront us daily. Welfare benefits slashed, millions dependent on food banks. Libraries, museums, childcare centres, youth clubs, swimming pools consigned to the scrapheap; road repairs and park budgets cut, bus routes terminated. In Darley Dale a helpful notice tells us that the lavatory is closed and the nearest one is 2.1 miles away.
The true story is that of a government that has chosen private profit over civic services, while it wreaks an assault on the services that make towns and communities good places to live. In a 2015 Guardian article about benefits, sanctions and food banks, Ken Loach called for “public rage” and spoke about “conscious cruelty”.
The word “austerity” has allowed the government to disguise both intent and outcome. In its original meaning “austerity” suggests plainness and simplicity, a cosy view of cutting back, perhaps a mythical wartime pulling together. “Austerity” is now a weasel word used to promote the Tory rhetoric that there is no alternative, that anaesthetises public anger as we are led to believe that there is no choice. There must be a new script. We should ban the word.
Beyond that, how do we create the public rage? We must not be bystanders. Somehow we have to trust that petitions, marches, demonstrations, letters to MPs and local papers and involvement with political parties will change the climate. We have to build in our own communities and in daily conversations a challenge to the dialogue of cuts as economic necessity, to work to expose the hypocrisy and devastation of central government’s assault. We have to sing loud that deep into our hearts, “I do believe, we shall overcome, some day.” Together we can, we must, we will change our worlds.
Emeritus Professor Roger Clough
Darley Dale, Derbyshire
• Aditya Chakrabortty’s article about Philip Alston’s visit to the UK was devastating to read. Government politicians have ignored the impact of austerity. They have lied about it, joked about it and refused to measure it. They have shoved the blame on to its victims and the responsibility on to charities that buckle under the strain. These actions represent a deliberate attempt to break people’s “dependency” on the state. Now, anyone who is sick, disabled, unemployed or in any other way vulnerable is expected to fend for themselves. Through a punitive sanctions regime and the inbuilt hardships of universal credit, the state itself has become an instrument of punishment rather than support.
If our “decade of shame” is not to become permanent, we need a public debate about the welfare state – one that recognises that a strong society is one in which everyone is strong. We will all be weakened if we continue to watch as people sink under the weight of this government’s monstrous political choices.
• The UN inquiry by Professor Philip Alston might well prove one of the most significant events in British civil society this decade, as Aditya Chakrabortty suggests. Let’s hope he will report on the chaos in UK housing policy created by the application of extreme free-market principles to the inevitably limited supply of land in our British isles. Since 1979 rich and powerful institutions, national and international speculators have increased the unearned value of UK land over and over again. The Thatcher government bought votes by encouraging bank lending for, and the taxpayer funding of, home ownership, so further inflating land values. From 1997 Blair and Brown did not dare touch the housing market for fear it would lose value and they would lose votes.
The focus on home ownership has continued since 2010, as always to the detriment of tenants. The consequence can be seen in the rising number of tenant families in temporary accommodation – up 65% to 79,880 since 2010. Here in Haringey the council is unable to permanently house 4,400 such families without forcing them into the private sector, so increasing their rent from £90 a week for two bedrooms to at least £300 a week for a private landlord. The dictatorship of the UK free market forces levers low-income tenants towards rent-induced poverty, the food bank, mental and physical ill health, and an early death in the deprived Tottenham wards.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• I note that, although the two-week visit by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights includes several UK cities (Report, 5 November), there is only one non-metropolitan coastal area included, Jaywick Sands. Will any rural contexts be considered? Our experience is that the pain of austerity is felt as keenly in areas which, behind a beautiful and serene facade, hide many who are struggling with low wages, reduced benefits, isolation and unaffordable or nonexistent transport.
Dorset Equality Group
• Taunton? A “centre of fake nutritional excellence” (Suzanne Moore, G2, 6 November)? My dear, we haven’t even a Waitrose, an aspiration turned down some years ago on the grounds that we are “the wrong demographic”. Visit Taunton and see for yourself the preponderance of people suffering from eight years of austerity. You’ll notice poverty and homelessness aplenty, pale, pasty, stressed-out faces, a main street full of betting shops, fast food outlets, and boarded-up chain stores. I used to joke that at the end of our road we had two pawn shops and two porn shops. Things have only got much worse.
• How convenient that Esther McVey decided to resign over Brexit. Now she needn’t meet UN special rapporteur Philip Alston, who is due to report his findings on poverty in the UK. What craven behaviour from a politician with no integrity.
Newcastle upon Tyne”